I’ll Be Your Mirror: A 3-Question Brand Identity Assessment

brand identity

A brand identity should reflect the “personality” of a company. But do you feel like the same person you were a year ago today? 

After 12 months of unprecedented upheaval and adaptation, life for many is very different than it once was. Your organization probably isn’t really the same, either. 

In the face of enormous changes to customary work practices and service delivery, many companies have shuffled priorities and adopted new processes. Some have even retargeted products, mission, and scope. 

Now is a good time to reflect on all that alteration — and consider whether your brand identity still holds true. Or if it could use a refresh. 

Here are three questions to help you assess whether your brand identity might need a full facelift — or maybe just a shot of Botox.


1. Who Are You?

Take a cue from Lou Reed, get a proverbial mirror and hold it up to your brand in the harsh light of day. Give it a long, hard look — and try to be honest rather than aspirational as you consider the reflection. What’s changed about your organization and its goals in the past 12 months? What’s changed in your customers? How do you stack up against your competitors? Does any of this impact your existing brand identity?

2. How Are You Seen?

Your personal preferences may be interesting, but they aren’t particularly relevant here. Your brand image should speak to what your target audiences care about and value. Does it? Many people will make snap decisions based on the “virtual” first impression your company makes in today’s largely digital world. With fresh and critical eyes, carefully review your brand’s current touch points. What impression would your preferred customer take away from a first visit to your website, or your company’s presence on LinkedIn or Twitter? Does it positively reflect your current position? Brand promise? Desired trajectory?

3. Are You In Sync?

Your website and social channels aren’t the only things communicating your brand identity to the world. Every single person in your company is a brand ambassador — and your own colleagues may be feeling out of touch and less than certain about the company’s shared mission in our turbulent times. Does everyone who works at your company know what you collectively stand for? How you operate? The kind of customer experience you intend to deliver? Customers like knowing what to expect from the interactions they have with companies. This means delivering brand-consistent experiences across operations — sales, support, direct marketing, social media channels, PR and advertising programs, etc. Is that happening?

Brand Identity = True Reflection

In any business environment, it’s wise to periodically assess your organization’s unique attributes — and position them to best attract the type of partners and customers you want to work with, now and in the future. But after such a tumultuous year, it’s important to review those qualities — and determine whether your brand identity is still accurately conveying them.

If your answers to any of the assessment questions indicate room for improvement, it may be time for a brand identity refresh. Reach out if you need help or guidance. Developing and polishing effective brand communications are Sterling’s specialty.

Photo Credit: Nick Youngson, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Building Marketplace Credibility with Analyst Relations

According to the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations, around 40% to 60% of all technology-purchasing decisions are influenced by analysts. Yet analyst relations is an often-overlooked tool in a company’s communications arsenal (and it should not be).

Married to a strategic public relations plan, analyst relations can substantially shape business strategy through credible industry insight and influence. Moreover, industry analyst reports, reviews, and feedback can significantly impact reputation and brand perception — and map directly to an organization’s share of voice, qualified lead generation, and return on investment (ROI). 

analyst relations and success
Who are industry analysts?

Analyst firms make money by selling trustworthy, third-party analysis and insight. It is an analyst’s job to cultivate deep and extensive market knowledge relevant to a particular domain. They invest heavily in understanding absolutely everything about specific coverage areas. That translates to expert opinion on major players, industry disruptors, emerging issues, and future directions.

Perhaps most importantly, it is their job to understand what customers want from technology vendors and how those needs compare with what is available in the marketplace.

And, let’s not forget…analysts are credible “influencers.” They speak to business leaders and journalists routinely. You will often see their comments included in industry trend stories and other news. Analysts also tend to have close connections to investor and government communities.

Why should you talk to them?

In B2B tech, it’s no secret that technology buyers are savvy, technical people — often skeptical of direct marketing.

Simply put, your buyers listen when analysts talk. When you get mentioned by analysts — either in written research or in 1:1 inquiries — indirect access to prospects opens up. Coverage in official research publications such as Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, Forrester’s Wave, and IDC’s Marketscape are game changes. References in these reports help your sales and marketing teams demonstrate that your technology, company, products, and services are recognized and credible.

Companies also use analysts to stay informed about what is happening in the market and solicit feedback on messaging and product development. Additionally, they rely on analysts to contextualize product or service offerings and make suitable critiques on business strategies.

What is the value of AR?

Industry analysts are deeply connected across your customer community and business ecosystem; working with them allows you to:

  • Get feedback: Educating analysts about your existing and future capabilities keeps them in the know. It also offers an opportunity for you to get valuable feedback on your position and messaging. You can use that information to inform or adjust business and product planning.
  • Spread the word: When analysts know your story, you’re more likely to be top of mind when they’re engaging with pertinent customers, prospects, media, or investors. The perspectives they share about you carry weight because they come from an informed but independent third party.
  • Identify insights: Analysts often share valuable insights based on their network and the research they conduct. By capturing these golden nuggets of information, you could learn much you hadn’t previously considered.
  • Influence prospects: Some analyst firms have close connections with your customer and prospect base. How analysts reference you in consulting engagements and through research can greatly impact your bottom line. They advise customers and publish research that defines vendor purchasing processes — and influences final selections.
Is analyst relations right for your company?

If your offering is in the technology space and/or specific to healthcare, energy, retail, or education verticals — adding analyst relations to your communications mix is an important consideration. It’s a strategic function that delivers returns for your marketing and PR strategy.

What are the first steps?

As with media relations, a successful analyst relations program requires honing relationships to build your company’s reputation and create credibility in the marketplace.

When managing relationships with analysts, companies generally turn to their PR agency. A good analyst relations program will focus on a long-term strategy. Teams will prep executives, facilitate briefings, prepare analyst-focused presentations, schedule inquiries, and ensure the company stays top-of-mind with key analysts and their firms.

To learn more about analyst relations, reach out at go@sterlingpr.com.

Company Podcasting 101: Tips and Best Practices

As explained in a previous post, company podcasting can be a great way to augment marketing and communications goals and showcase expertise in an engaging and popular format.

If you’re considering the launch of a company podcast, here are some podcasting tips and best practices to inform your efforts.

podcasting microphone

Planning a company podcast

Before you launch a new product or service, you need a plan. It’s always important to have the right strategy and track each milestone along the way. Podcasting is no different. It’s critical to have business objectives, a solid communications plan, and a content strategy before launch.

Use these three questions to frame company podcast preparations: 

  • What is your message? 
  • What are your goals?
  • How will you ensure engagement with your audience?

What you need for podcasting

A company podcast will need branding. This includes cover art (for listing on various hosting platforms and for highlighting on your own website). A written show description and a standard introduction that can be reused at the start of each episode is also important. Each individual episode will also need its own brief written description.

You’ll also probably want some background music to accompany your standard introduction and to close out each podcast episode. Musical accompaniment doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. There are loads of free resources online for royalty-free and copyright-free podcast music, including the Free Music ArchivePixabay, and the YouTube Audio Library

Standard equipment for recording can include nothing more than a smartphone. However, we advise that at minimum you record using a headset with microphone or earbuds as they improve voice-capture exponentially. For even more polished recording, there are now dozens of inexpensive podcast microphones available for purchase, many with built-in noise reduction features and pop filters that supply studio-grade sound.

Speaking of studios, they’re great! But you don’t necessarily need one to record a podcast. A quiet, distraction-free room with a closed door should suffice.

Some software will be required to produce your company podcast. While you can use standard smartphone recording features or even conferencing apps like Zoom or Skype to record your sessions, we recommend exploring applications purpose-built for podcasting. In our client podcast production efforts, we’re currently using Ringr due to its remote recording clarity, same-room sound, and multiparty participation features.

You’ll also need a podcast hosting service to store and distribute your episode files and to submit them to Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or other podcast directories. There are tons of affordable podcast hosting services, and many provide extras such as analytics, scheduling tools, and social sharing features. Sterling currently uses podcast industry stalwart libsyn for our clients.

Coaching tips for first-time podcasters

Aside from using headphones and a mic and recording in a quiet space, here are a few other tips for recording company podcasts:

  • Encourage participants to start over or restate as needed – it’s fairly easy to edit and stich-together audio files. And everyone stumbles verbally sometimes. As long as you aren’t broadcasting a live audio stream, take advantage of the medium’s benefits to produce the best listening experience. On the flip side, don’t expect or aim for absolutely flawless delivery; overly scripted podcasts tend to be stilted and unappealing.
  • The tempo of speaking should be close to when you speak with someone on the phone, not too fast and not too slow. Remember to breathe.
  • Citing statistics and sources is great for credibility, but there’s a diminishing return on effectiveness in a single audio encounter. Judiciously curate your references and try to limit stats to 3–4 in any single episode.
  • Unless you’re creating a single speaker podcast, the experience is a conversation and should sound like one. Encourage authenticity, reciprocity, and interesting anecdotes; and suggest that guests pause briefly before answering questions. These qualities tend to engage listeners.

Getting the word out

Once your company podcast is recorded, edited, hosted, and live for streaming or download, you’ll want to spread the news to potential listeners. In addition to encouraging all your friends and family to listen and review where applicable, publicize your podcast on your company website. Reach out to your intended audience with links to your episodes via your organization’s social media accounts, and participate in #PodRevDay on Twitter and similar podcast-related forums.

You can also engage with podcast directories (Apple, Spotify, etc.) on social media to increase potential reach. And depending on your podcast format and amplification goals, outbound pitching for your show to appear in industry “top ten” lists and roundups relevant to your target audience might also be a good idea.

If you’d like more information or further guidance on developing a podcast or integrating podcasting with your overall PR and communications objectives, feel free to email us at go@sterlingpr.com or call (408) 395-5500.

Carli Aiona | Sterling Communications

Consider the Company Podcast

One truly under-utilized professional communications medium is the podcast. While this digital audio content delivery format has been around for about 20 years, it’s still largely neglected for brand audience development and messaging amplification.

Sure, many companies advertise on or sponsor third-party podcasts. And many thought leaders already engage with popular podcast shows as guests or contributors. That’s all great! But such avenues largely mimic the customs of traditional audio formats like radio. 

The power of podcasts

Modern companies should consider podcasts along the same lines as video. Just as with creating a company YouTube or Vimeo channel — or featuring video webinars, sizzle reels, and product or service explainers on your organization’s website — a company podcast can deliver powerful encapsulated content directly to interested individuals at scale.

The format is portable, intimate, and incredibly engaging — and podcast consumption is on the rise.

podcast headphones

According to The Infinite Dial 2020 report from Edison Research: 

  • 212 million Americans are familiar with podcasting 
  • 104 million Americans are monthly listeners 
  • 68 million Americans are weekly listeners
  • 48% of listeners are ages 12–34, 32% are 35–54, and 20% are 55+
  • 55% of listener audiences are men, 45% are women 

Podcasts and PR

Such a large and growing audience deserves attention in public relations strategies. Companies can pursue podcast development to augment marketing and communications goals, to showcase expertise, to provide self-directed learning content, or even broaden recruitment outreach. As Business.com notes:

  • Podcasts capture audience attention
  • Podcasts create a personalized experience
  • Podcasts help build and maintain important network connections

In short, podcasting presents a great opportunity for organizations to demonstrate knowledge and value through a convenient, popular, and effective medium.

Sterling Communications recently worked with a client to develop, launch, and produce a monthly podcast focused on highlighting key mission objectives and exploring pertinent issues within a specific sector. Discussions about the concept began in July 2020, development and production officially kicked off in September, and the first episode went live in November. That’s a pretty speedy process for mastering a new medium and establishing a new brand communications vehicle!

While there was definitely a learning curve, moving from podcast idea to actualization was neither inordinately complex nor cost prohibitive. The barriers to podcasting are pretty low — anyone can make one, and some amateur efforts are great.

Podcast prep

That being said, as with all professional communications, developing a brand podcast requires clear strategy and forethought. Not every company’s communication needs are the same, so not every podcast will be the same. Here are three research and preparation tips if you’re considering a podcast for your organization:

  1. Podcast exploration: Browse and listen to a variety of freely available podcasts for inspiration. Make sure your research includes podcasts with single speakers, one-on-one interviews or conversations, and group panels. Sample podcasts devoted to diverse topics, not just those covering your organization’s area of focus. Gauge your preferences (and those of your intended audience) for different episode lengths (5 minute, 20 minute, or about an hour).
  2. Podcast software and hardware: Learn a bit about the tools you’ll need to make it all happen. While pretty much every device these days comes with microphone and recording capabilities, there is a vast assortment of equipment, apps, and services that can impact quality and either ease or complicate your podcasting efforts. We’ll discuss a few recording/editing/hosting/distribution options in our next post.
  3. Podcast branding: Spend some time thinking about your podcast’s “personality.” You’ll need to consider what you’ll call it, who will host it, how it will be described, what kinds of images and collateral will accompany it for listing and sharing.

Other deliberations will include cadence (episode posting yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily); whether there’ll be guests, mapping out a content calendar to plan episodes by theme and/or topic, and budgeting investment (in both dollars and time).

Keep in mind that very few podcasts achieve the popularity of The Tim Ferris Show or TED Talks Daily, and that’s OK. A company podcast shouldn’t aim to be the next Serial

Building any podcast audience is gradual and takes time. And the ultimate aim of a company podcast should be to supply engaging content for a pretty specific audience (say, your desired customers, potential partners, industry influencers, and future recruits).

Envisioning a company podcast that’s tailored to add communications value specific to your organization is the best place to start. We’ll devote our next post to detailing “Company Podcasting 101: Tips and Best Practices.” In the meantime, you can email us at go@sterlingpr.com or call (408) 395-5500 to learn more or further discuss podcasting and PR.

Communicating effectively on sustainability

The diesel cheating affair of 2015 nearly destroyed Volkswagen. The company sat at the center of one of the largest scandals in auto history after employees wrote software to make Volkswagen diesel car emissions appear cleaner than they were. Volkswagen’s long-standing reputation for engineering excellence and sustainability innovation was destroyed overnight. $30 billion in compensation, years in court appearances, and reams of repair costs followed. 

This crisis forced Volkswagen to take a hard look at its strategy, operations, and culture. It had to fight for its existence. Only then could it formulate a recovery strategy. 

The company is lucky to have survived.

BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010 was the environmental mega-crisis of the decade, which proved a cautionary tale. On a business and communications footing, there was a path for Volkswagen to follow after BP’s travails. News trends also gave Volkswagen some air cover in the U.S., as Donald Trump’s presidential run and a visit from Pope Francis were making headlines at the time. But there are savvy methods for rebounding from a crisis no matter the scenario.

In Political Risk, a book on how organizations anticipate risk and insecurity, Condoleeza Rice and Amy Zegart outlined the method for how companies can tackle crises effectively. They take them seriously, approach with humility, and they lead from the top. Fast application of these principles can help companies find a path forward. Clear communications play an important role in such endeavors.


Time and Tide and Sustainability

Now, industry analysts say Volkswagen is reborn. It is the leading global seller of cars, and has lofty electric car goals for market share and driving emissions down. It has pledged to spend $25 billion to develop battery-powered or hybrid versions of every one of its models by 2030. It wants to flood the electric vehicle market with affordable cars — “mainstream” it away from the Tesla market perception of EVs as the preserve of the few, not the many. Electric vehicles are expected to account for as much as 25 percent of global sales by 2025. Volkswagen is hungry for a large slice of the pie. Damaged reputation still hinders that effort to a degree.


While companies such as Volkswagen were guilty of misleading behavior, others have pragmatically tried to plot the journey from being the very emblem of the environmental degradation, to standing at the forefront of sustainable changes driving the low-carbon economy. 

sustainability communications
Image by Gerd Altmann

A decade ago, I advised a client called Drax on effectively communicating its necessary shift toward sustainability. Drax is a biomass and coal-fired power station in England that, at the time, was aiming to diversify to low carbon fuels. It had a visionary chief executive who wasn’t afraid of what the move from coal to biomass would send to the market. To her, the business case was compelling and the environmental benefits profound — and she was able to win over institutional investors. Drax also chose to work with Imperial College London, a world-class research university, and with leading NGO, WWF. Working with third-party stakeholders meant concepts were challenged and road tested, and gave Drax’s transformation greater credibility in the market. 

The sustainable case was made to transition from coal to biomass, and the company was able to change with the times. Now, Drax is planning to become the world’s first carbon-negative business within 10 years, furthering their sustainability credentials. 

Brave Green World 

With 2021’s new administration in the US, we are likely to see renewed private sector investment in the clean-tech and clean energy sectors. Ambitious climate targets, a reversal of the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and more investment in solar, wind, and sustainable energy projects are on the table. The attention and commitment to sustainability will ratchet up again across sectors. 

The competing stories of Volkswagen and Drax demonstrate how leadership and communicating effectively with all stakeholders can allow you to rebuild after a crisis, but also that pivoting boldly to face the realities of a new landscape and setting the right communications strategy up-front can have real impact on success.

One created a crisis and handled it badly initially, before finding a path to restore its image and embrace technology that would allow millions of people to drive electric cars. The other didn’t waver when it saw that renewable energy, and driving down emissions, was compatible with business performance. 

There is long-term opportunity in risk, crisis, and transition stemming from the convergence of profit, people, and planet. And there are ample techniques for communicating those issues to the world professionally.

But they all start with a simple step. In short, doing the right thing.

The Glory of Good Grammar

Grammar gets a bad rap. 

Maybe the tedium of rote lessons in grade school induced grammar aversion. Or maybe it has something to do with the way grammar correction is so often employed to scold or ridicule. Who hasn’t been on both the giving and receiving end of such grammatical slights from time to time?

Nevertheless, grammar is important. It definitely colors perception in professional settings. According to the National Law Review, grammar actually played a role in a federal court case this year. The defendant’s motion was not only denied, but the counsel was chided for submitting a brief “riddled with spelling mistakes and ungrammatical sentences.” A sample of text from the offending brief reads: “PURSUANT TO FEDERAL RULES OF CIVILE PROCEDURES RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDUE 12(b) (2), (3), and (6) FIRST STANADFINANCIAL COMPANY MUST BE DISMISSED.” Is it any wonder the District Court was not impressed?

Grammar neglect

There’s rarely cause to make a federal case out of grammar. Most folks probably prefer to avoid the subject altogether. Consider the emergence of automated writing aids in all the apps you use these days. There has been an awful lot of effort employed to free people from worrying whether the “i” comes before the “e.” 

And it’s not just spellcheckers: Grammarly, the company responsible for an AI-powered tool that also scrutinizes sentence structure and word choice in real time, closed a $90 million funding round last year. That’s a mighty big investment in the ability to offload grammatical dexterity.

When we do pause to consciously consider grammar, it’s generally with vexation at someone’s poor usage or anxiety about our own.

But grammar isn’t meant to be avoided or weaponized or feared. It’s meant to reinforce logic, clarify meaning, and help us to communicate with each other. We should think about grammar. It doesn’t confine us. Instead, grammar guides us through the abundant and ever-evolving capabilities of language. That’s a noble journey.

And besides, grammar can be a lot of fun. 

Pleasures of grammar

We’re big fans of Mignon Fogarty’s popular Grammar Girl podcast — a decade-deep treasure trove of interesting instruction on all things grammatical. What’s a comma splice? Why is “Worcester” pronounced “Wooster”? Where did daylight saving time come from? How do you punctuate an indirect question? Did you know “gravy” is a ghost word*? 

Possessing the answers to these questions can make you a better communicator. (And it can make you a more engaging companion at a dinner party!)


Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Even schoolchildren can enjoy the way a misplaced comma results in hilarity.

Most importantly, the pursuit of good grammar demonstrates discernment — care for how our thoughts are understood by others. It’s a glue that helps us relate to one another.

Communication is central to our services at Sterling Communications, so we’re naturally drawn to explorations of grammar. And while we’re happy to employ digital tools to assist in our work, we also believe professional communication requires human attention. For example, the automated writing aids embedded in the application used to write this article didn’t find any errors in the offending legal brief mentioned above. (Capitalization settings are probably the culprit, but human eyes care not for such excuses.)

Like it or not, grammar is inextricably tied to conveying purpose and intent. As the prolific linguist David Crystal has explained:

“Grammar is the structural foundation of our ability to express ourselves. The more we are aware of how it works, the more we can monitor the meaning and effectiveness of the way we and others use language. It can help foster precision, detect ambiguity, and exploit the richness of expression available in English. And it can help everyone — not only teachers of English but teachers of anything, for all teaching is ultimately a matter of getting to grips with meaning.”


*Ghost words are words that made it into the dictionary because of an error or misunderstanding.

Presenting and Pitching Remotely as a Team

Like many others in the Silicon Valley, we’ve been conducting business remotely most of the year.

By committing to more phone calls, email, messaging, and web-conferencing, we’ve been managing pretty well. But we’ve definitely noticed that 100% remote work can complicate many facets of business.

For example, we recently conducted a completely remote new business pitch and presentation.

We’ve presented to remote prospects before. And we’ve had a team member dial-in to participate in pitches in the past. But this time everything — from initial contact to opportunity assessment, team assembly, research, scheduling, creative development, pitch coordination, group presentation, and follow-up — was done at a distance.

remote presentation during COVID epidemic

Together apart

While many duties within a presentation development cycle are performed individually, the process as a whole requires group effort and layers of synchronization. In short, our entire methodology for preparation and delivery leans heavily on collaboration.

We’ve got the practice down to a fine art when we can walk across the office to ask a quick question or huddle in a conference room together to share knowledge, brainstorm, and strategize at any stage.

But take away our proximity to each other — and our conference room — and it becomes a very different experience.

Here are some things we learned about virtualizing the process.

It takes more time

You’ll need more time than usual for development when everyone is remote:

  • No tool or technology is as efficient as in-person communication. All the senses are engaged face to face. Things like body language and facial expression or changes in tone quickly impart volumes of information that just doesn’t translate well digitally. 
  • It’s harder to have quick confabs on-the-fly when everyone’s remote. You can’t just glance across the room to capture opportune moments.
  • Group banter and consensus building is more difficult via phone or web conference, where interruption causes audio glitches and background noise often makes muted microphones necessary. Remote group conversation tends to be more linear, and thus more time consuming.
  • Managing complexity via messaging and/or email is laborious. But those are often the best available tools. So a lot of communication is going to be asynchronous. And writing and reading simply eat more time than talking and listening. 
  • Unexpected delays or cancellations are harder to recover from remotely. Anyone who’s been on standby in a Zoom waiting room for 3 minutes can attest to the seemingly interminable drag of time when scheduled web meetings don’t start promptly. 
  • People are more likely to wander away mentally or leap ahead to some other phase of planning when key players are absent. That means more follow up will be required to keep everyone on the same page. 
  • Schedule padded blocks of time for team planning. Expect a few inevitable calendar conflicts. And assume there’s going to be a lot of review to stay synchronized.

Planning and preparation

Coordinating as a group involves more forethought than simply scheduling a web meeting and distributing an agenda:

  • Decide in advance how you are going to manage your shared documentation. We started with email and switched to Box Notes so the whole team could add information in a single living document. 
  • Shared notes evolve quickly. Use subheads, links, and bullets to make information easy to scan. 
  • Deleted items will have to be hunted down and retrieved from revision history if/when they become relevant again. Keep a repository of abandoned information at the end of your documentation so it’s easier to revisit.
  • Version management is essential. Designate one individual to build/manage the presentation deck. Store the most recent version on a shared database accessible to the whole team in case of emergency.
  • How and where you share material is important. If you’re using messaging apps like Slack to share news/images/research with other members of your team, create a Channel. Don’t default to direct messages — this will preserve team access and awareness. It’s also a good idea to save relevant images and resources to a shared folder online.
  • Rehearse. Just as when preparing to present as a team in person, everyone needs to know when they will have the floor and be able to anticipate cues and transitions to keep things flowing smoothly.

Presenting remotely together

Presenting as a team remotely requires attention to choreography and technical issues that might not ordinarily cross your mind. Here are a few considerations and tips:

  • Make sure your computer position, microphone, and camera adhere to web meeting best practices.
  • Remember that everything is being viewed on a screen (often a small one). Participants will spend most of their time visually focused on a slide deck. Don’t bore your viewers by just reading the text aloud (unless you’re presenting to kindergarteners). Instead, interpret what is written, supply context, guide participants through the information that’s being put before them.
  • Within the confines of a web meeting, participants will usually appear as tiny heads on a grid (à la The Brady Bunch) or as highlighted faces in the margin depending on the speaker. At such small scale, you cannot easily make eye contact or signal with a gesture. Verbalize transitions to pass attention to another participant and address each other by name (“My colleague is the expert on this. Pal, can you jump in?”)
  • Similarly, scan faces for signs someone wants to interject/ask a question. Pause often, look for raised hands, circle back when you’re finished speaking (“Joe, it looked like you wanted to comment on the timeline, did you have a question?”).
  • Tools don’t always play well with other tools. Test your conferencing environment and presentation materials for compatibility and display issues ahead of time (missing fonts, unsupported image or animation formats, etc.). For example, we found that Keynote slide decks just don’t work properly in Microsoft Teams environments, so PowerPoint is the better option for such venues.
  • Try not to move around a lot or walk away from your webcam even if you’re not the speaker — it’s distracting. Turn off your webcam if you have to step out of view for any reason.
  • Don’t start real-time side-conversations in other channels (such as Slack, chat apps, or DMs). Give the meeting your full attention.
  • Fill awkward delays or technical glitches with congenial conversation. Ask a question. Engage. Sometimes a participant gets bumped offline, or a software application needs to be restarted. These things happen, but you don’t have to leave everyone silently staring at a screen until the issue is fixed.
  • Be considerate of everyone’s time. If you promised a pitch that would take half an hour, make sure it’s completed in 30 minutes. You may have to truncate parts of your presentation to adjust for conversation that organically develops around particular points. If post-presentation discussion naturally extends beyond the appointed time, that’s perfectly OK (in fact, it’s probably a great sign that you made an impact).

It can be done — and done well

Our all-remote team pitch ultimately came off remarkably well. Even with a few technical issues, we managed to learn a lot in the process and pull together a unified, cogent, and visually appealing presentation highlighting a host of relevant expertise from each member of the team.

More importantly, the remote presentation experience was energizing and fun. It delivered lively conversation with engaged and appreciative participants — and prospective future clients.

Should you be mind mapping?

“Brain fog” is a common complaint these days. But there are techniques that can help organize thoughts and tasks to cut through the haze. Have you ever tried mind mapping?

The Sterling team recently experimented with collective mind mapping to exercise our mental muscles and recharge our creative batteries.

Basically, a mind map is a way to work with information that is more experiential and less linear than simply jotting down notes.

The term “mind map” was coined by the late BBC personality and author Tony Buzan in the 1970s. Buzan’s mind maps were based on the “abstracting” principles of general semantics developed by Alfred Korzybski.

The principal involves crafting diagrams representing ideas, tasks, actions, and relationships around a central concept by using lines and shapes and images and colors — instead of relying on text alone.

The process forms a more communicative, memorable, and impactful exploration of information. 

Mind Maps are fun

Mind Mapping Sterling Communications
Sterling interactive mind map exercise.

To create a mind map, start with a single idea or topic. Then “grow” relational branches radiating from it to create a graphical data visualization.

Mind maps can be created with online tools. (We used Miro for our remote interactive exercise, but there are a variety of others available.) They can also be drawn by hand on paper or a whiteboard.  

They’re engaging

Simple Mind Map Diagram
Image credit: Safety Professionals Chennai / CC BY-SA

Depending on the depth of exploration desired, a mind map can be a sophisticated and highly detailed study or a quick and rudimentary sketch.

They’re practical

Simple mind map doodle.

Regardless of scale, mind maps are more intuitive than outlines and more informative than lists.

They are great for brainstorming and tend to spark creativity, so they form an excellent framework for collaborative documentation.

They’re also handy for personal use in simplifying complex processes, uncovering buried insight, or establishing clear structure for ideas that seem unwieldy. 

And that makes them a great tool for clearing brain fog!

The next time you have to take notes or outline a project, try structuring your thoughts as a mind map.

Here are some tips:

On a large blank piece of paper or online whiteboard, write a central topic or question in the middle of the page (or select a representative image) and circle it.

  • Begin by writing down ideas or descriptions branching out from the center circle as spokes or branches that are related to the central topic. Use symbols, shorthand, acronyms, and/or drawings to capture concepts. Don’t worry if they’re obvious or silly, that’s part of the process.
  • Try to find related sub-ideas or descriptions for each spoke/branch. Some may generate a whole new cluster with its own branches and sub-ideas. Draw a shape around these satellite hubs to emphasize them. If possible, use color and line thickness for linking ideas or emphasis.
  • Keep going until you fill the page, completely run out of ideas, or your allotted time runs out.
  • When you’re finished, take a moment to assess the map. If you spot connections/similarities on separate branches, draw a dotted line or arrows connecting them.

Review what you’ve done: Did any directions surprise you? Could you explain how your thoughts moved in retrospect? Do you have greater clarity on the topic or question?

We’re betting the answers will all be yes!

Media visibility = market share

Connecting the dots to grasp the business value of public relations

Wired UK recently published an interesting meetings-app analysis, titled “How Skype lost its crown to Zoom,” discussing how Zoom has become the consumer and corporate poster child for video conferencing in 2020. Yes, the pandemic drove its ascent. And yes, portability and feature development played their parts. It’s a good product, but so is Skype. So what gives?

The article illustrates something that is often difficult to convey when measuring the impact of marketing and public relations efforts on business success. Here’s the relevant snippet: 

“’If you look at the strength of Skype and Teams combined, they should be the ones having the Zoom moment but they’re not. It’s marketing, and a lot of people think of Skype as yesterday’s video calling.’ That’s echoed in the news coverage of video conferencing: according to data compiled by Muck Rack, a website collating journalism produced around the world, between May 2019 and February 2020, Skype consistently led media discussion around video conferencing. But when journalists started having to recommend software to use, they began mentioning Zoom more and more at the expense of Skype and other competitors. In March, Skype was mentioned in 51,000 articles, while Zoom gained mentions in 60,000 stories. By April, Skype remained the same, written about in 50,000 articles, while Zoom was included in 195,000 stories.”

media visibility

It’s worth noting that on April 1, MarketWatch reported that Zoom’s daily active user count was up 378% from a year earlier and monthly active users were up 186%. During the next 30 days, according to SensorTower, Zoom became the most downloaded non-game application worldwide with about 131 million installs.

There are a host of contributing factors to the Zoom Boom, and it probably won’t last forever. Security issues and market competition from upstarts like BlueJeans and heavy-hitters like Facebook and Google may impact long-term adoption.

But well-executed marketing outreach and public relations targeting media put Zoom on journalist radars. After a splashy IPO last year, keeping the company top-of-mind with writers and reporters translated into widespread media visibility at a strategic moment — and definitely brought the company to the attention of millions of potential new users as the pandemic unfolded and video conferencing became a de facto necessity. There is a direct correlation between Zoom’s remarkable growth spurt and its increased media visibility.

If people don’t know about your company, they don’t seek your services. 

Professional public relations attracts relevant media attention so that the people you want to reach will know who you are and what you do. 

In terms of business impact, Zoom’s current success shows that such media visibility can certainly drive market share.